Illiterate and semi-literate men in Taita-Taveta give adult education a wide berth
On a sunny January evening of 1982, a 15-year old Claris Mwasingo came home from school and found her father in a pensive mood. He curtly informed her she would not be going to school the following day. All his money would go towards paying fees for her elder brother. No amount of appeal by the devastated girl would him change his mind. Ms. Mwasingo dropped out of Mwakichuchu Secondary School. She was in form Two.
Thirty five years after that fateful evening, Ms Mwasingo is set to sit for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2018 and fulfill a long-delayed dream that was denied by her father.
“I had to do this for myself. I might not get employed but I will have achieved something I didn’t in my younger days,” says the mother of four.
At the age of 49, Ms. Mwasingo’s story of resilience is being touted as a motif of what the future holds for adult education sector in Taita-Taveta County. She is one of the 2, 444 learners currently enrolled under the adult literacy program in the region. She works as an Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) teacher at AIC centre in Talio, Sagalla.
Her first born son is a Board of Management (BOM) teacher in a local school while her two sons are set to sit for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam this year. Her daughter is already married.
The County Adult and Continuing Education Officer, Franklin Karanja says that adult education program in the region is offering a second chance to those people who discontinued with their education at childhood. He notes that the enrollment was rising, a trend he attributed to the widespread awareness about the program in the county. There is also a deliberate effort to fight off stigma that is associated with old people going back to school.
While lauding adult learners who have gone back to school, he appealed to men to enroll for adult classes.
“We have low funding, shortage of staff and lack of vital facilities and it is a tough challenge but the determination of our learners to defy odds and succeed keeps us going,” he said.
Such resurgence of optimism is common amongst the officials in the sector who have struggled to claw back the sector from the verge of collapse.
In mid-2016, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) released the annual Economic Survey Report for 2015. The report projected a bleak outlook of adult education learning sector in the region.
In its analysis, Taita-Taveta County was ranked last in Kenya in terms of number of adult learners at 1,109. The county had 191 male and 918 female learners. The report sent a chill in the education sector with questions being raised on the future of adult and continuing education in the region. In contrast, Nairobi County, which was ranked first, had a total adult education learners’ population of 14, 182. It had 6,351 male and 7,831 female.
The report not only worked to galvanize the officials into launching an aggressive awareness campaign to shore up the numbers but also to help counter a rigid wall of negative attitude towards adult education. Appeals for cooperation amongst various stakeholders were sent out and county government was urged to throw its weight behind the initiative.
The statistics obtained for 2017 enrolment shows some remarkable progress. The total learner population has more than doubled to 2, 444 from the low of 1,109. However, the number of men learners remains worryingly low as compared to that of women. Total number of women enrolled in the program is 1,765 while male learners are at 689.
Education experts in the region opine that women resume learning at old age than men. They attribute this to cultural factors and a misplaced sense of masculine superiority that makes men avoid such classes.
The Taita-Taveta Senator, Jones Mwaruma, an educationist said most beneficiaries in the program are women as they primarily shouldered the burden of fending for their families. He adds that most men were caught in the web of excess drinking of alcohol while abdicating their duties as heads of families at domestic level.
He blamed this trend on proliferation and availability of cheap brews that has left most homes under the care of women. The only adult education centre with the highest number of male adult learners is Manyani Maximum Prison where 45 inmates are already in the program.
“There are thousands of men who need adult education but they are too zoned-out in drinking joints to care. This has left women as the sole providers for the families and they are forced to find all ways in which they can better their lives,” Mwaruma said.
Ms. Mwasingo is such one example. She said she parted ways with her husband over ten years ago and she has single-handedly educated her children through sheer hard work and perseverance. She states that she needed to provide a better life for her children than she was given by her own parents and in the process, she felt she was also in need of education for self.
Karanja says that should the various challenges facing the sector be addressed, a large chunk of problems would be solved. He says that issues like resources, staffing and availability of classrooms would ensure learners attained consistency in attendance.
There is also the negative perception of adults attending classes like ‘young children’. Mr. Timothy Nyambu, a farmer at Gimba, dropped out in class 3 but is not interested in learning. He is certain his neighbours will laugh behind his back and make unsavory comments about his quest for education. His children are however in school but he can’t recall what class they are in.
“I don’t need it. I am just good the way I am,” he quips.
Mike Mwakazi, a teacher at Mwangea Adult Education class notes that such sentiments are deeply ingrained in most men who missed classes in their younger days. Most fear the ridicule and scorn that would come with them being treated like ordinary learners and being subjected to ‘humiliation’ of going back to class like their grandchildren. He opines that fight against such misplaced stigma towards education should now be the next battle frontier.
Currently, the success of adult learners’ program relies on benevolence of secondary school head teachers who allocate one or two classrooms where available. In Mwangea Secondary School, some adult classes are only conducted for three weeks during the school vacation to avoid the inconveniences that come along with borrowed classrooms when learning is on.
However, the biggest boost for this sector might come from the assurance by the senator that the county government will throw its full support behind the program. Schedule Four of the constitution notes that only ECDE sector and youth polytechnics are devolved functions. This means that other sectors including primary, secondary and tertiary education are still functions of national government. Adult education is also managed by the national government.
In the past, counties have given a lot of focus on education areas under them while offering little or no support to the other sectors managed by the national government. This gives rise to dismal performance, poor enrollment or absence of proper infrastructure especially in sectors that receive little funding from the national government. This ultimately leads to poor results.
Senator Mwaruma said all leaders have vowed to work closely together to improve the education sector as a whole without being rigid on which level of government was responsible for what role. He noted that losers and winners would be learners who belonged to the county depending on how the two governments cooperated.
“Whether it’s county or national government function, all efforts should be geared towards helping the learners who are residents of this county. It doesn’t matter who does what, provided the learners are assisted to improve,” he said.
The senator’s assurance has triggered expectant yet skeptical hope amongst the stakeholders in adult education sector. In the past, counties have been known to give priorities to projects that have a wide appeal to the residents. Adult education sector with its few numbers might not be one of them. Whether the senator’s words on close-cooperation between the two levels of governance will come to pass or not can only be proven once the county budget is prepared.
By Wagema Mwangi